Next to water, coffee is the most popular beverage in America. With so many people consuming this drink, and with so many different ways to make it, we want to know—what is the unhealthiest preparation of coffee? That's why we decided to ask registered dietitians what type of coffee they say is the one you should avoid whenever you can.
The results are in, and dietitians all agree: the worst coffee you can drink is a specialty, blended coffee that's loaded with add-ins—especially sugars.
"The unhealthiest coffee is one with lots of unhealthy 'add ons'—whip cream, chocolate, cream, and/or sugar," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim.
In fact, these sugary concoctions are nutritionally closer to a dessert rather than a caffeinated beverage: "Many coffee drinks are more along the lines of milkshakes: whole milk, half and half, heavy cream, whipped cream, sugar, syrups, flavored syrups can add a lot of added calories, fat, and sugar," says Lisa Hugh, MSHS, RD LDN, Founder & CEO of Single Ingredient Groceries. "Lots of people drink coffee thinking of it just as caffeine, not thinking of it as having as many calories as a meal or dessert," she adds.
Katherine Basbaum, MS, RD, a registered dietitian with UVA Health's Heart and Vascular Center agrees with Hugh, and she explained to us exactly how these blended, sweetened coffee drinks are basically caffeinated milkshakes: "The average 16-ounce milkshake has about 500 calories, 14 grams of total fat, and 8 grams of saturated fat. The same goes for many blended coffee drinks. For example, a 16-ounce caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks contains almost 400 calories, 16 grams of total fat, and 10 grams of saturated fat,"
Like Basbaum, the dietitians we spoke to weren't shy about calling out the worst culprit, which you probably won't be surprised to hear is the Starbucks Frappucino.
The worst coffee drink you can order is a Starbucks Frappucino.
"The most unhealthy way of consuming coffee is a Frappuccino. Frappuccinos are high in carbohydrates and fats because of all the added ingredients such as syrups, purees, whipped cream, creams, and even cookie crumbles," says Kylie Ivanir, MS, RD, a registered dietitian with Within Nutrition.
Ivanir explains that the specific combination of ingredients, which she calls "sweet fats," that are loaded into Frappuccinos make them a nutritional disaster.
"'Sweet fat' or a combination of sugars and saturated fats is harmful for two reasons. (1) 'Sweet fats' can actually overstimulate the brain's reward system which leads to increased sugar cravings later on. They literally hack our appetite control centers. (2) 'Sweet fats' also lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome," says Ivanir.
"Let's take the Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino as an example: it has 55 grams of carbs and 16 grams of fats. The carb content is coming from mostly added sugars and is over double the maximum amount of 25 grams that is recommended per day! These drinks will just lead you into a 'spike crash crave cycle," explains Ivanir.
Drinking these sugary drinks can have some bad repercussions on your health.
To put the amount of sugar contained in these drinks in context, the daily recommended intake of sugar is between 25-35 grams sugar for adult females and males, respectively, but "the average Frappe can run 70 grams or more of sugar for a large—well over double the recommended intake in just one drink," says Rachel Temple, RD, a Registered Dietitian at Life Time Frontenac.
And all of that sugar can cause some very negative side effects. "Sugar, especially added sugar like we find in Frappuccinos, increases the risk of diabetes and high cholesterol, which then leads to more serious health concerns such as heart disease. Weight gain is also a common side effect of high sugar intake as drinks and foods high in sugar are typically also high in calories. Ultimately becoming overweight or obese also increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes, thus making sugary drinks one of the sneakiest and unhealthiest drink options out there," says Temple.
Tips for healthier coffee drinks.
If you're shopping or ordering coffee drinks, you should do a little research first.
Watch out for sugar on the label: "When looking at nutrition facts labels, check the ingredients for words like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and anything ending in -ose, which means sugar. Opt for drinks that don't contain sugar, or contain very few grams for a realistic serving size. To get an idea of how much sugar is in a drink, divide the grams of sugar by four – the answer is how many sugar cubes worth of sugar it contains," says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, RD, CDE registered dietitian for Next Luxury.
And if you want to stick with your go-to order, that's completely fine, as well. Just make some slight adjustments:
Order a smaller size: "Your best bet is to think small (get the small instead of the large size) and stick with low-fat milk or unsweetened plant-based milk. The less sugar, the better," says Dr. Young.
Of course, putting yourself in control of the entire process of making coffee is going to be your best bet for being able to drink the healthiest cup of coffee. Hugh has some recommendations for ingredient swaps and tips for crafting the perfect cup:
Pick a better creamer & flavoring options: "Better creamer options may be: skim milk, plant-based milk of choice, or a small amount of organic half and half (a little goes a long way). Flavor enhancers include cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, pumpkin spice," says Hugh.
Use sweeteners sparingly: "If sweetener is absolutely needed, I recommend it in the smallest amount possible. Caloric sweeteners raise blood sugar quickly and trigger more cravings and hunger later and also trigger insulin secretion which promotes fat storage in the body. Artificial sweeteners don't have calories but can trigger sweets cravings, hunger and disrupt the microbiome," Hugh adds.
And before you brew your next cup, you should also read up on these 9 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Brewing Coffee, According to Experts.
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